Over the past long weekend I indulged in an old passion. I watched, on and off, for hours the 2017 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ. Yes, I like cars. And there were about 1700 cars auctioned off this last weekend. (This is the largest of these affairs but not the sole auction sponsored by this company and there are quite a few other companies doing this.)
These cars were all over the map as to kind: race cars, classic cars, novelty cars, muscle cars, vintage cars, you name it. Some were newer, others older. Some were restored, others were “survivors.” I was astonished at the prices, but these cars are not something one needs but are something one wants. There were not many “daily drivers” changing hands this past weekend.
I looked online to see if there were any statistics associated with past auctions and … yes! A recent comparable year was 2015 in which 1617 cars were sold for a whopping 132 million dollars. (I don’t know whether that total include the auction fees, which were 10% added on top of whatever was bid.) Dividing those two numbers results in the average sale in 2015 being just under $82,000 dollars. Since I have never paid as much as $20,000 for a car, this appears to me a display of a great deal of extravagance.
I was, therefore, attracted to the people signing the paperwork for these purchases. Who were they? They were older. No surprise there. And they were men. Again, no surprise there. But they were almost exclusively all white men. The auction starts with cars estimated at lesser value, reaches a crescendo on Friday and Saturday and tapers off on Sunday. The buyers of these lesser value cars were almost universally older white men. Much silver hair on display. When the prices got up well over six figures, the buyers became younger: middle-aged, I’d say.
Now I didn’t watch all of the coverage as there were hours and hours and hours broadcast, on two different networks (Discovery and Velocity), but I saw several hundred of those cars rolled across the block. And I saw one person of color buying. One.
I can imagine what this appears like to a viewer who is Black or Hispanic as one or another nonessential bauble gets sucked up by old white guys who have six figures of room in their checkbooks this month. Some of them seemed to have even more than that as they bought several cars, so maybe they had seven figures of slack in their check books.
Even though I live from paycheck to paycheck as apparently most Americans do now, I do not begrudge the rich their money, if they came into it in a fair and equitable way. As a member of a minority which had been economically exploited over decades if not centuries, I might just want to puke at the display of ostentatious wealth.